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Winter coats and child car seat malfunction

American grandparents probably remember the days when auto safety seats for children were not mandatory. The first seats for children were not especially crash-safe, but they did raise the child far enough to enjoy the window view.

Today, precisely engineered car seats must provide maximum protection. Manufacturers follow strict safety standards; otherwise, they find themselves liable for children's accident injuries from poor safety seat design or production defects. Some parents are guilty of criminally negligent homicide if a child dies because the parent failed to use a car seat or did not strap the child inside according to the manufacturer's directions.

How clothes can defeat car-seat safety

Car seat manufacturers and parents can do everything right, yet children are severely injured each year because of loose car seat harnesses. How could so many parents be negligent when strapping their children into a car seat?

The truth is, the parents are not at fault. The car seat manufacturers are also not at fault. The problem finally dawned on accident examiners: Children who suffered severe injury or death were wearing warm, puffy coats filled with down or lined on the inside with thick fabric insulation.

Parents secured car seats to the vehicle, then strapped and locked the seat harness over the child. They correctly followed the manufacturer's instructions. The manufacturer followed federal safety design standards for the car seat. No one realized that the heavy coat was to blame for creating hidden looseness in the safety harness.

Upon crash impact, the fluffy coat layer compressed down, leaving enough room for the child to pitch forward and slip out of the harness. The unrestrained child collided with objects inside or, in some cases, outside of the car.

How to protect children wearing winter coats 

Parents can take their child out to a vehicle wearing a winter coat. Once the child is inside the vehicle, remove the coat before placing the child into the car seat. No matter whether the child's coat seems bulky or thin, remove it, and then buckle the child snugly into the harness. There should be no loose areas in the harness straps.

Place a warm blanket over the top of the harness and child. No part of the blanket should be under the harness. Remove the child from the seat upon reaching the final destination. The parent can now put the child back into the winter coat. This way, there is no chance a safety-seat harness will become loose in case of an accident.

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